Nearly a year since he announced his signing with the Professional Fighters League, Rory MacDonald expected he’d be spending the fall getting ready for the MMA league’s semifinal round before advancing to New Year’s Eve’s PFL Championships.
Instead, MacDonald remains indefinitely preparing for his PFL debut.
The former UFC and Bellator superstar was set to become the PFL’s most recognizable face—as well as the primary target of PFL welterweights—before the league made its decision to postpone the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. And despite no fights in sight for the PFL this year, MacDonald is still holding out slight hope for a 2020 miracle.
“I was hoping to get some kind of an update after summer,” MacDonald says. “But I’m praying that I get an opportunity at the end of the year. If not, it looks like it’s going to be a long layoff.”
But while his fight schedule remains empty, MacDonald has stayed sharp through a mixture of some old-school weight training, New Age visualization techniques, plus some creative new twists to his regimen—gymnastics—while staying fight ready for when the PFL presumably begins its 2021 season.
“I’ve been training hard during this entire quarantine,” MacDonald says. “I’ve used the layoff as a motivating factor to just get better and be ready for when that time comes.”
Along with defending PFL Women’s Lightweight Champion Kayla Harrison, who can make a case as the top female fighter in the world, MacDonald became one of the PFL’s most recognizable stars the moment he signed with the upstart MMA league in December, and quickly stamped himself as the top threat to take 2019 welterweight champion Ray Cooper’s belt.
“Rory is an elite talent,” says PFL CEO Peter Murray. “He’s a top 10 welterweight with a championship pedigree and big-fight experience. We’re [still] excited to see him compete in our challenging season format, in a stacked [welterweight] division. His signing is certainly a signal to the market…the PFL is a place you should seriously consider.”
MacDonald hoped to expand his MMA résumé already stacked with signature victories, most notably wins over former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Nate Diaz. His two epic Bellator battles in which he split with current welterweight champion Douglas Lima, made it possibly the best rivalry in that organization. Instead, COVID-19 forced his training to be relegated at his fully equipped garage at his Montreal home.
Prior to any pandemic, MacDonald had already maintained a club-quality garage gym, equipped with free weights, power rack, treadmill and a bike. He said he added a few odds and ends to make the gym complete. “I was just training from home by myself,” MacDonald says. “I made some little additions—I’d order off of Amazon and other places, but I had most of the stuff.”
MacDonald could perform most of his workout in his garage—squats, presses, treadmill runs were the standard.
But for a fighter, even a former world champion, social distancing mandates brought by coronavirus made it challenging for a while to replicate sparring sessions with real humans. MacDonald says for the first few months, he improvised as best he can, using heavy bags, ground and pound bags. Gradually, MacDonald was able to reacquaint himself with coaches and teammates, while keeping it as safe as possible.
“It was a bit odd at first,” MacDonald admits. “At first I was just training from home by myself. You had to make adjustments, but we got through it.”
MacDonald also started adding mind games—literally—to help fill some the sparring void the pandemic created. He credited visualization—playing fight scenarios and drills in your head on a near-continuous loop, till it translates onto the ats. MacDonald says the mind techniques are a quality addition to an athlete’s routine, and advises anyone from seasoned veterans white belts to put some thought into your routine.
“I think the best tool that not a lot of people use utilize is just using your imagination when you’re on your downtime,” MacDonald admits. “Visualizing move techniques during a fight can help you put things together. It helps you become more coordinated when you put it into practice.”
RINGS OF FIRE
MacDonald was able to use the downtime to incorporate gymnastics training to his arsenal. He credits his kickboxing coach for turning him on to this full-body-weight strength and stability staple, but at the same time, gymnastics training became popularized among MMA athletes from another of his mentors, fellow Canadian and UFC legend Georges St. Pierre.
Gymnastics rings along with a variety of resistance bands and calisthenics equipment were some of the quarantine additions to MacDonald’s home gym. Along with shaking up his workouts, MacDonald says adding ring dips, inverted rows and other ring-based movements left his body shaking the first few times he attempted. Nevertheless, MacDonald says incorporating these types of body-weight moves have him feeling stronger today than he did during his last fight last October.
“I started doing gymnastics just because I felt like it would be fun to try something new, but at the same time, it has also strengthened my muscles and improved my coordination.”
Try outmuscling the unstable forces that come with rings and you’ll be quickly humbled and hurting, and MacDonald was no different at first, especially his first crack at an L-Sit, an agonizing full-body strength move, incorporating arms, core and legs. “I couldn’t do it at first,” MacDonald admits. “I was like, I got to train at this to get better.”
He says his progress came in small increments, first starting with his legs tucked in, more resemblant of an H sit than an L. Slowly over time, MacDonald says he was able to extend his legs more until mastered the move, creating an L a few days later.
I wouldn’t say I mastered it,” MacDonald says. “but I was able to do it.”
TRAIN LIKE RORY MACDONALD
Body-weight Squat: 30 reps
Pushup: 20 reps
Hip Mobility Drill
Dip: 10 reps
Plank: 60 sec.
Reverse Plank: 60 sec.
5 Sets Of:
Single-leg Pistol Squat: 10 reps
Inverted Row (w/rings): 6 reps
Deep Pushup (w/rings): 10 reps
Dips (w/rings): 5 reps
Hanging L-sit holds: 5 seconds:
Pullup (w/rings): 5 reps
Reverse Lunge: 6 reps
Heavy bag work